What Worked? Never-say-die attitude, third down, pace of play, timely defense

Tajh Boyd, playmakers brilliant down the stretch, even without Sammy Watkins

Clemson's Jonathan Willard tackles Wake Forest's Brandon Pendergrass.

Clemson's Jonathan Willard tackles Wake Forest's Brandon Pendergrass.

‘Never, ever, ever give up.’

The words written on a sign in Clemson’s West End Zone locker room have become the definition of a 9-1 season.

The Tigers may be down, but never consider them out. Even in their loss to Georgia Tech, they played their way back within a couple of ‘ifs.’

Clemson’s 28-14 hole on Saturday against Wake Forest was nearly as dire. The Deacons, like the Yellow Jackets, have a patient way about them that’s extremely effective at killing the clock.

But the Tigers kept plugging, scored a touchdown that stopped the third-quarter bleeding and made a game of it, then got a stop, then another, and lo and behold, arrived at the end of the game kicking a field goal to win.

They missed, so they went and did it again.

The bottom line is testimony to a team that believes in itself, and is good enough to do something about it.

Some other Saturday highlights:

Tajh Boyd: This guy is special, even when he’s not very good. And for a long stretch of the game on Saturday, ‘not very good’ would be a nice way of describing the sophomore’s performance. He completed just 10 of his first 23 passes , gave up two interceptions, and threw half a dozen more balls into peril. And then, suddenly, he found his groove.

He hit five straight passes for 58 yards and a touchdown on a 68-yard drive that pulled the Tigers back within seven, 28-21, late in the third quarter. Then after the missed fourth-and-inches, a defensive stop, and a missed Deacon Field goal, he took the Tigers 80 yards for the tying touchdown, on his way completing six of seven passes for 64 yards and a score.

He was 2-of-3 for 27 yards on a short drive that preceded Chandler Catanzaro’s 30-yard field goal miss, and then, after the Tigers got the ball back at their own 33 with 42 seconds remaining, was 3-for-3 for 41 yards in setting up the game winning field goal.

Chandler Catanzaro: Kicks like the sophomore made on Saturday can be more than game-winners – they’re career-changers.

Pace of play: By Chad Morris’ standards, the Tigers were positively slogging along in the first half – 34 snaps for 205 yards and 10 first downs. Pace played a part in Clemson’s second-half turnaround – 52 snaps, 317 yards and 17 first downs. Morris believes that the only sure way to shut down his offense is to keep it off the field, and on Saturday, the Deacons weren’t able to finish what they started.

Timely stops: Clemson’s defense is far from dominant; but when the Tigers have needed late-game stops, they’ve been able to get them more often than not. Over the course of the game, Clemson wasn’t able to take away Wake’s offensive balance, but while it seemed like the Deacons were running up and down the field at will, the final numbers said otherwise – just 317 yards on 72 plays, for a respectable 4.4 average.

Third down: The Tigers continue to defy the odds with outstanding performance on third down. They converted nine of 16 – 56 percent – against the Deacons, and are now 48.4 percent for the season, with four games over .500. Against Wake, Clemson averaged 10 yards on each of its nine successful third-down conversions.

Poised Playmakers: Sammy Watkins is the best player on the field, plain and simple. But the Tigers proved in a big game setting on Saturday that they can come from behind and win without him. That has to be a disquieting thought for opposing defensive coaches.

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